On December 4, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its much-anticipated precedential opinion in Marathon Petroleum Corp. et al., v. Secretary of Finance et al., No. 16-4011. The opinion affirms the Third Circuit’s existing view (described in its 2012 New Jersey Retailers Association decision) that US Supreme Court precedent permits a private cause of action to enforce the federal priority rules, overruling the federal district court’s conclusion (in this case and Temple-Inland) that the priority rules only apply to disputes between states. Continue Reading Litigation Alert | Third Circuit Reaffirms Scope of Federal Priority Rules

Last month, a bill (The False Claims Amendment Act of 2017, B22-0166) was introduced by District of Columbia Councilmember Mary Cheh that would allow tax-related false claims against large taxpayers. Co-sponsors of the bill include Chairman Jack Evans and Councilmember Anita Bonds. Specifically, the bill would amend the existing false claims statute to expressly authorize tax-related false claims actions against persons that reported net income, sales, or revenue totaling $1 million or more in the tax filing to which the claim pertained, and the damages pleaded in the action total $350,000 or more. The bill was referred to the Committee of the Whole upon introduction, but has not advanced or been taken up since then. Nearly identical bills were introduced by Councilmember Cheh in 2013 and 2016. Continue Reading DC Council Introduces False Claims Expansion – Taxpayers Beware!

At a hearing yesterday, Cook County Circuit Judge James Snyder granted the State of Illinois’ (State) Motion to Dismiss 201 Illinois False Claims Act (FCA) cases filed by the law firm of Stephen B. Diamond, PC (Relator) against out-of-state liquor retailers.  The lawsuits alleged that the defendants were obligated to collect and remit sales tax on their internet sales of alcohol shipped to Illinois customers.  The complaints admitted that the defendants lacked any physical presence in the state, and would not qualify for any Illinois liquor retail license, but nevertheless asserted a tax collection obligation for sales and a tax remission obligation for gallonage tax arising under the 21st Amendment of the US Constitution and the Supreme Court’s decision in Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460 (2005).

In its motion to dismiss and at oral argument, the State relied upon the favorable standard for consideration of motions to dismiss False Claims Act cases filed by the State established by the Illinois Appellate Court in two prior cases:  State ex rel. Beeler, Schad & Diamond v. Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp., 369 Ill. App. 3d 507 (1st Dist. 2006) and State ex rel. Schad, Diamond & Shedden, P.C. v. QVC, Inc., 2015 IL App (1st) 132999 (Apr. 21, 2015).  In both cases, the appellate court held that when the State moves to dismiss a qui tam action allegedly filed on its behalf, its motion should be granted absence evidence of “glaring bad faith” on the part of the State in moving to dismiss.  The State argued that it had concluded that the Relator’s claims were weak, based in part on the Relator’s admission that the defendants lacked nexus.  In response, the Relator argued that the State had acted in bad faith by relying on Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992) and other commerce clauses nexus rulings and, according to the Relator, ignoring the 21st Amendment and Granholm, which the Relator alleged supplanted any nexus analysis (a point the State and the defendants vigorously disputed in briefing prior to argument).

After hearing argument, Judge Snyder ruled from the bench that the Diamond firm had failed to meet its burden of proving bad faith by the State in moving to dismiss the 201 lawsuits.

The Diamond firm will have 30 days from the date of entry of the Circuit Court’s dismissal orders to either seek reconsideration or appeal from the trial court’s ruling.

Two years ago, a former employee of Card Fact, LLC (subsequently purchased by Card Compliant), a company providing gift card issuance and management services to retailers, filed a false claims action in Delaware alleging that his former company and its retailer clients concocted a scheme to avoid remitting unclaimed gift card funds to Delaware. Last week, the judge in the case issued a memorandum opinion on the defendants’ Motion to DismissState of Delaware ex rel. French v. Card Compliant LLC, et al., C.A. No.: N13C-06-289 FSS [CCLD] (Del Sup. Ct. Nov. 23, 2015). While the opinion is likely disappointing to most of the defendants, it should not be read as a final victory for the state. There is still much to be decided in the case, as this was just a motion to dismiss and not a decision as to whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail.

The judge did however make several legal conclusions that are of import to Delaware companies. First, the judge determined that as to gift card liability that was initially incurred by the retailers but subsequently transferred to Card Fact (and its affiliates), the retailers remained the debtors with respect to the card owners, unless the customers consented to the delegation of debt. The judge found that the contractual agreements between the retailers and the Card Fact companies were not controlling. However, the judge did not specifically rule on gift card liabilities that were never transferred from the retailers to Card Fact, but instead were incurred directly by Card Fact after its relationship with the retailers began.

Second, the judge found that for defendants that were not C corporations, the second priority rule was to be applied based on the state of formation, not the principal place of business. This is contrary to most state laws and sets up a direct conflict between the states.

Finally, the judge found that because one of the retailers had previously been audited by Delaware (through Kelmar), it could not be a defendant in this false claims action. The judge dismissed this defendant entirely, even for claims that arose subsequent to the audit conclusion. The judge noted that “[i]f the auditor has given [the retailer] a bye, that is between the escheater and the auditor.” This is very good news for any company that has previously been audited by the state regarding the risk of a false claims action.

Practice Notes

  1. For companies that have been audited by Delaware, the risk of a false claims action has likely been significantly reduced if not eliminated;
  2. Unincorporated entities should investigate the indemnification provisions between their state of formation and state of principal place of business to determine the risk of choosing which state to remit to;
  3. Companies using gift card entities or other liability allocation arrangements should review their disclosures and agreements with customers to verify appropriate consent and understanding regarding which entity holds the actual liability.

The Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) recently proposed amendments to its regulations governing the taxability of shipping and handling charges. The Proposed Amendments to 86 Ill. Admin Code §§ 130.415 and 130.410 (Proposed Amendments) are intended “to incorporate the holding of the Illinois Supreme Court in Kean v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 235 Ill. 2d 351 (2009) … [and to] clarif[y] when transportation and delivery charges are considered part of ‘gross receipts’ subject to the Retailers’ Occupation Tax Act or the Use Tax Act.”  The Proposed Amendments state that they are retroactive to November 19, 2009, the date of the Kean decision.

Delivery charges taxable when they are “inseparably linked” to the taxable sale of property

In Kean, the Court held that delivery charges for products purchased over the internet and shipped to Illinois customers are taxable when “an ‘inseparable link’ exists between the sale and delivery of the merchandise plaintiffs purchased.”… 235 Ill. 2d at 376.  Citing Kean, the Proposed Amendments adopt that rule (Prop. 86 Ill. Admin. Code § 130.415(b)(1)(B)(i)) and provide two examples of an “inseparable link”:

  • When delivery charges are not separately identified to the customer in the contract or invoice; or
  • When delivery charges are separately identified to the customer, “but the seller does not offer the purchaser the option to receive the tangible personal property in any manner except by delivery from the seller (g., the seller does not offer the purchaser the option to pick up the tangible personal property).”

Prop. § 130.415(b)(1)(B)(ii)

The Proposed Amendments provide that if a product can be sold without rendering the delivery service, the service is not taxable.  Prop. §130.415(b)(1)(B)(ii).  Although this language is not limited to a circumstance in which a pickup option is offered, all of the examples provided by the Department focus on that fact pattern.  Notably, the pickup option need not be at an in-state location.  This is consistent with the Department’s recent private letter rulings concluding that when a pick up option is offered, even if it is out-of-state, the delivery charges are not taxable.  ST-15-0011-PLR (7/16/15); ST-15-0012-PLR (7/27/15).

In a change from the Department’s prior practice, the Proposed Amendments provide that separately stated shipping charges not found to be inseparably linked to the sale of goods are not taxable even if they include a profit component (i.e., exceed the actual cost of shipping).  Cf. the current regulation, at 86 Ill. Admin. Code §130.415(d), with Prop. §§ 130.415(b)(1)(C) and (b)(1)(D)(iv).

Practice Note:

Sub-part (b)(1)(B)(ii) of the Proposed Amendments supports the conclusion that offering customers free standard shipping evidences that any other shipping service for which a seller charges customers (i.e., expedited shipping) are separately contracted for and thus nontaxable.  Arco Industrial Gas Division, The BOC Group, Inc. v. Department of Revenue, 223 Ill. App. 3d 386, 392 (4th Dist. 1991), which is cited in the Proposed Amendments, also supports this conclusion.  Several defendants have successfully raised this defense in response to Illinois False Claims Act litigation alleging a failure to collect tax on shipping charges.

Taxability and rate depend on the underlying property

The Proposed Amendments go on to provide that in the event delivery charges are “inseparably linked” to the sale of property, their taxability and rate depends on the taxability of the property sold:

Property Sold & Delivered Delivery Charges
All exempt Not taxable
Part exempt; part taxable Not taxable if selling price of nontaxable property > selling price of taxable property
All property subject to high or low tax rate Follows tax rate of property
Some property subject to high tax rate and some subject to low rate Low rate if selling price of low rate property  > selling  price of high rate property
Exempt, high and low rate property Not taxable if selling price of exempt property  > selling price of taxable property; low rate if selling price of low rate property  > selling price of high rate property

Prop. § 130.415(b)(1)(E).

Incoming transportation generally remains a taxable cost of doing business

The Proposed Amendments maintain the longstanding rule that a seller’s incoming transportation or delivery costs or costs to move property to ready for customer delivery are taxable costs of doing business.  The rule applies even if the seller passes on these costs to a buyer by separately stating them on an invoice.  86 Ill. Admin. Code § 130.415(e); Prop. § 130.415(b)(2).

Taxability of handling charges follows shipping charges

The Department also proposes similar amendments to the regulation relating to the taxation of handling charges.  Prop. § 130.410(c).

Practice Note:

To the extent the Proposed Amendments were issued by the Department to assist companies who have been named in lawsuits filed under the Illinois False Claims Act alleging an intentional failure to collect and remit tax on shipping and handling charges, it may be too late.  The Proposed Amendments come almost six years after Kean, and after hundreds of companies have been forced to defend against these claims, regardless of their audit history with the Department, and regardless of their shipping policies.  It remains to be seen whether the Department’s effort to impose the Proposed Amendments retroactively will be adopted, or whether the retroactivity will be helpful to companies who are forced to defend against this litigation.  The Proposed Amendments also are inconsistent with position that many of the Department’s auditors have taken, both before and after Kean, that taxpayers need to collect tax on separately stated shipping and handling charges only to the extent that the charges are a source of profit for the company.